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Week in Review: Meet your new school board, elected during an intense week

PHOTO: Erin Einhorn
A total of 63 candidates ran for the first board of the new Detroit Public Schools Community District.

This has been an intense week for everyone in this country as teachers in Michigan and elsewhere have struggled to heal divisions or confront ongoing nastiness in the wake of Donald Trump’s surprise presidential victory on Tuesday. But here at home, those of us who care about Detroit schools are also trying to get to know the six women and one man who have been chosen to help shepherd our schools through for the next 2-6 years.

“I … want to make sure students learn in a safe environment and that teachers are adequately paid. … We want for our kids what other districts want for their kids.”

Angelique Peterson-Maybury, newly elected member,
Detroit Public Schools Community District board

Read on for more information about the new board members as well as the rest of a busy week that included news of a new push to help young Detroiters and an update on the future of the state-run recovery district. Thanks for reading!

The top seven

Detroit voters who managed to wade through the city’s three-page ballot on Tuesday and find the list of 63 candidates seeking seats on Detroit’s new school board selected seven people to serve on the first (almost) empowered locally elected school board that Detroit has had in years. The highest vote-getters will serve six-year terms, while those with fewer votes will serve four- or two-year terms — a setup designed to ensure that not every seat is up for reelection at the same time. Here’s what we know about the winners:

  • The candidate with the most campaign spending got the most votes — and a six-year term. Angelique Peterson-Maybury is the community relations director at UAW-Ford and the mother of two students currently enrolled in the district.
  • The other candidate elected for six years, Georgia Lemmons, did not report any campaign fundraising or answer surveys from the district or major newspapers about her background or experience. But she was the only candidate to have a special designation — “certified teacher” — appear with her name on the ballot. She petitioned a court for that designation so voters could distinguish her from her husband.
  • Georgia Lemmons is the wife of LaMar Lemmons, who served on the old DPS school board and was also elected to the new board — the only person to do so. LaMar Lemmons, who is an aide to a state representative, said he believe he and his wife are the first married couple to serve on a Detroit school board. A third Lemmons family member on the ballot did not make the cut with voters.
  • Candidates elected to four-year terms are:
    • Iris Taylor, the retired former CEO of Detroit Receiving Hospital
    • Sonya Mays, the CEO of a real estate and housing development nonprofit
    • Misha Stallworth, the advocacy coordinator for Detroit Area Agency on Aging. The youngest winner at 27, Stallworth is the daughter of former state Rep. Thomas Stallworth III. Her uncle and grandmother were also elected state lawmakers.
  • The two members who will serve just two years before needing to run again are Lamar Lemmons and Deborah Hunter-Harvill, who heads an education consulting firm.
  • The union that represents Detroit teachers claimed victory on Tuesday. Four of its endorsed candidates were elected, giving union-supported members a majority.
  • Of the nine endorsement lists that Chalkbeat reviewed last week, the group that saw the highest number of its endorsed candidates elected was the 13th Congressional District Democrats, which backed five of the winners (including the four endorsed by the teachers union).
  • One critic says the election was actually illegal.

That other election:

  • Video of students at a suburban Detroit middle school chanting “build the wall” as a way of taunting Latino classmates has gone viral and turned the school into a national symbol of division.

More from Election Day:

  • The state board of education is now divided evenly between Democrats and Republicans, setting the board up for a brewing battle over issues like charter schools and school funding.
  • The Wayne County school tax hike passed, leading to cheers from school leaders. “We now have an exceptional opportunity to invest more fully in programs and initiatives that will strengthen the district’s academic plan, improve our facilities and reinforce safety and security,” said Alycia Meriweather, the interim superintendent of Detroit’s main school district.
  • Suburban voters also supported most of the tax hikes that were on the ballot throughout the region.
  • An influential pro-school choice lobbying group announced that 49 of the 53 candidates it endorsed in the state house had won their elections.

In Detroit:

  • Two major foundations are leading a high-profile effort called “Hope Starts Here” to design a “world-class” program to serve the health and education needs of Detroit’s youngest children, from babies to third graders. The effort will invite tens of thousands of Detroiters to make recommendations for immediate and long-term actions that will culminate in a “citywide action plan” next summer.
  • Plans for folding the Education Achievement Authority schools back into Detroit’s main school district are underway, and debts owed by the state-run recovery district have been resolved. Still unclear is what will happen to the EAA’s teachers, who aren’t members of the teachers union and are paid on a different scale from district teachers.
  • High schools in the main Detroit district will get career-based themes similar to the medicine and science theme at the Ben Carson High School of Science and Medicine. At least that’s what’s in the academic plan released this week by the district’s leaders. To be implemented, however, the plan will need approval from the new school board.
  • A conference today and tomorrow aims to encourage more churches and businesses to partner with schools to improve conditions for kids in poverty. A former United Way official is using the event to launch his book about a community partnership in Detroit’s Cody Rouge community that improved graduation rates.
  • More than 350 JROTC cadets from Detroit schools are expected to participate in today’s Veterans Day observance ceremony at the Historic Elmwood Cemetery.

Across the state:

  • The head of a national charter school organization warns that as Michigan considers closing schools for low performance, officials should be on the lookout for struggling schools that “resort to politics and personal attacks to garner sympathy for their plight and divert attention from their failings.” Closing a school, he writes, is “agonizing,” but sometimes necessary.
  • Chalkbeat wrote recently about a Detroit charter school that says it’s turning things around, even if that turnaround hasn’t yet been reflected in test scores. Now several other schools across the state are making similar arguments.
  • Online-only schools in Michigan that let kids do their lessons from home have seen a spike in enrollment.
  • The list of state high school band competition winners is awfully similar to last year’s.
  • A suburban school is hosting a “life after high school” fair for students with “learning differences” to explore college and vocational options.
  • Michigan families can now turn to a state website to search for and apply for more than 5 million scholarships worth up to $25 billion.
  • The state education department is now accepting nominations for the prestigious $10,000 Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching.
  • Some western Michigan districts are ramping up reading instruction to prepare kids for the new tougher third-grade promotion requirements that will affect this year’s kindergartners.
  • A new report looks at the impact of the Michigan Teaching Fellowship Program, which trains science, technology, and math teachers to work in some of the state’s neediest schools.

Detroit week in review

Week in review: A hurry-up-and-wait moment for Detroit’s landmark education lawsuit and more in this week’s school news

PHOTO: Erin Einhorn
On his first day as Detroit schools superintendent, Nikolai Vitti, with former interim superintendent Alycia Meriweather, greets principals at a teacher hiring fair at Martin Luther King Jr. High School.

Was this week’s education news big? We won’t know for a long time — at least a month, but possibly years.

That’s after a lawsuit filed nearly a year ago over the conditions in Detroit schools had its first day in court. A judge will rule within 30 days whether the suit can proceed over the objections of Gov. Rick Snyder, whom the suit targets and who argues that the state can’t be held responsible for Detroit’s schools. If the suit does move forward, it’s likely to take years to have any real effects on local schools.

Of more immediate consequences: Michigan got a rare reproach from federal education authorities, teacher vacancies remain, and an outside-the-box strategy to reach poor kids over the summer. Read on for that news and more, and have a great weekend!
— Philissa Cramer, Chalkbeat managing editor

STILL LOOKING: The main Detroit district is still scrambling to hire hundreds of teachers in hopes of being fully staffed for the upcoming school year.

OUTSIDE THE BOX: Libraries Without Borders is turning laundromats into learning spaces this summer. “At the laundromat, there is a population that often has fallen through the cracks,” the group’s executive director told Chalkbeat. “For the most part, especially during the day, you have unemployed adults and very, very young children.”

ABOUT THAT LAWSUIT: Catch back up on the bleak picture the lawsuit paints. Plus, a city teacher and public school graduate responds to the state’s argument that poverty, not state officials, is holding local students back.

NOT SO FAST: The 70-percent reduction in testing that Detroit schools chief Nikolai Vitti announced last week won’t be distributed evenly; high school students will take fewer tests, but students in other grades won’t see many changes. Vitti says he wants to do more over time.

NEGATIVE FEEDBACK: Less than a week after a phone call that state officials said was positive, the U.S. Education Department rejected Michigan’s plan for holding schools accountable. Now the state has to revise and resubmit — but to whom? The federal official responsible for approving the plans is reportedly on his way out.

A MYSTERY: The number of students in Michigan receiving special education services is on the decline. Were students inappropriately being determined to have special needs? Or are students who need services going without them? A parent group says that’s what’s happening.

TEACHER PREP: A tiny local college, Marygrove, will stop offering undergraduate courses; some local schools employees studying education are among the students stranded. A national group offering an online teacher certification program, Teachers of Tomorrow, got approval from the state to start funneling educators into Michigan classrooms.

STUDENT SHIFTS:  A Wayne State University study shows early evidence that as more African American and poor students choose schools in suburban districts, students in suburban districts choose schools further away from Detroit.

MOVERS AND SHAKERS: The new Detroit Children’s Fund picked Jack Elsey, formerly a top official in the state-run recovery district, as its executive directorTonya Allen, head of the Skillman Foundation, has joined an effort to rethink the way schools are funded in Michigan … Get to know Earl Phalen, the head of a growing charter network that has its roots in Indiana and schools in Detroit. … Top Detroit schools official Alycia Meriweather ranks as “the teacher’s favorite” in MetroTimes’ People Issue … And meet Chris Lambert, who’s inspired by God to recruit volunteers to spruce up city schools. (See the sprucing.)

THE DUVAL CONNECTION: Vitti’s former district, Duval County Public Schools in Florida, is gearing up to replace him. According to news reports there, Vitti is also importing one of his deputies from Florida to lead “marketing and rebranding” for Detroit’s schools.

MARK YOUR CALENDAR: Detroit Public Television’s annual teacher summit is next Friday; educators working in prekindergarten through third grade can sign up now.

By the numbers

Highs and lows from New York City’s annual school surveys of parents, students and teachers

PHOTO: Alan Petersime

New York City’s annual school survey is full of highs — 99 percent of teachers think students are safe in their classes — and lows — the schools chancellor still hasn’t reached peak approval ratings from her first year on the job.

More than 1 million parents, students and teachers responded to the survey for the 2016-2017 school year, which the education department called a record high.

The surveys often paint a sunny picture of the nation’s largest school system, and the responses are used in the city’s School Quality reports. But it’s hard to make year-to-year comparisons of the data because of changes to the questions and given responses.

Almost all of the 72,400 teachers who responded to this year’s survey said students are safe in their pre-K-fifth grade classes. That was the highest positive response of any survey question.

The high marks come after Mayor Bill de Blasio declared last year the “safest school year on record.” That claim, which some of the mayor’s critics have disputed, is based largely on a decrease in the seven major crimes categorized by the NYPD.

Also earning high marks: the city’s Pre-K for All initiative, which provides free, full-day care for 4 year olds. About 98 percent of parents reported they “feel good about the way that their child’s pre-K teacher helped their child adjust to pre-K.” The city hopes to expand the popular program to 3 year olds, starting with a pilot in two school districts this upcoming school year.

Now for some low points.

Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña’s popularity among teachers is a mixed story: 55 percent of teachers said they were satisfied with the chancellor. That is up from last year, when teacher satisfaction dropped to 52 percent. However, that’s compared with 60 percent of teachers in 2015, after her first full year on the job.

The education department compared the chancellor’s performance to 2013, when a meager 27 percent of teachers approved of then-Chancellor Dennis Walcott, who was on his way out as then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg finished his third term.

As for students, only 49 percent said their peers behave well when teachers aren’t watching (kids will be kids?) and 52 percent said teachers support them when they feel upset. Only slightly more than half, 55 percent, agreed their teachers ask them hard questions most of the time.

Update: This story has been updated to reflect Carmen Fariña’s approval rating over time.